Changing Dentists? Here’s How To Transfer Your Dental Records

Feeling anxious about switching to a new dentist? 

There’s no need. People change dentists sometimes, it’s just a part of life! Maybe you’re heading to another city for a new job, moving out for college, or even just switching because your longtime dentist has retired.

Whatever the reason, it means you need to get acquainted with a new dentist — and they need to get acquainted with your oral health! 

One of the best ways they can do that is by reviewing your dental records. 

Yes, it can be tempting to think, “oh, I’ll just save myself the trouble and start a new set of records”, and it’s true that your new dentist will almost certainly still take their own scans and exams so that your latest records play nicely with their patient system.

Don’t give in to that temptation! 

Between the six dentists we have here, it’s unanimous: health-wise, there’s no substitute for being able to see a patient’s complete treatment history together with notes and observations from their past dentists.

Taking the time to transfer your records is *absolutely* worth it, even if you’re usually just going in for routine cleaning and checkups, so here’s how you can do it.

One small clarification

While moving dental records is similar in most places, the laws around things like who owns your information, what information is recorded, and how long that information is kept for are different from place to place.

With that in mind, this article is focused on helping you understand what the local rules on dental recordkeeping - the ones set by the BC College of Oral Health Professionals (BCCOHP) - mean for you as a patient.

The quickest way: ask your new dental practice

In most cases, it’s that simple. You just need to ask your new dental practice to request the transfer on your behalf.

It’s typically very quick and easy. You (and your new dentist) will review and sign a consent form that specifies which parts of your patient records you’d like to have copied and transferred* over.

Once that’s been submitted, your dental records will be on their way!

Oh, and - since we’re discussing this - here’s an important patient right to be aware of: even if you’re leaving your old dentist because of a disagreement about service or payment, they can’t prevent you from accessing or transferring your patient records.

Here in BC, dental practices are legally obligated to retain and provide patient records when they’re requested by you or your new dental office.

*For you careful readers, yes, your records aren’t directly transferred from practice to practice. We’ll explain more about that later.

Can a patient request their own records?

Yes, as a patient, you have a right to receive copies of your dental records even if they aren’t being immediately sent to a new dental practice.

There are different reasons why you might want to directly receive a copy of your dental records. For example:

  • You need them to consult with another healthcare professional
  • You need to reference them for tax purposes
  • You prefer to bring your records to your new dental practice yourself
  • You’re moving internationally and submitting a transfer request from your new residence will be inconvenient

In the end, it’s your information and you have a right to access it. Just be aware that - like with practice to practice transfers - there may be a small administrative fee involved.

What’s included in a patient’s dental records?

Your patient record includes several different types of information. 

From a regulatory perspective, they’re all part of one big list of items that dentists are responsible for recording, but they can be grouped into a handful of categories:

  • General patient information
  • Dental information
  • Clinical information
  • Legal and financial information

Let’s take a brief look at each one.

General Patient Information

This includes things like your legal name, date of birth, address and phone number, emergency contacts, and primary care physician. 

They’re basic details, but essential for accurate recordkeeping.

Dental Information

Your dental information covers any observations from your initial exam, descriptions of all treatments you received and their results, as well as the current state of your oral health.

It also includes any referrals, diagnoses, specialist assessments, radiographs, scanner data, and other types of supporting information, like prescriptions and dental materials used, that apply to your care.

Clinical Information

Outside of the care you receive, your dental records also note down which treatment options you were presented with and what treatment plan, or plans, you and your dentist agreed on.

Beyond that, your medical history and any relevant health concerns are also maintained as a part of your overall dental records.

Informed consent is a very important legal responsibility for dental practices. Your dental records should always include confirmation that your dentist has talked to you about all reasonable treatment options and received your consent for any care you receive.

Lastly, there’s your financial information. It covers invoicing, itemized costs, financing and payment agreements, plus any insurance or benefits details attached to your account.

How much does it cost to transfer dental records?

Generally, transferring your dental records is free. 

Technically, however, your old dentist can choose to charge a “reasonable” administrative fee for any time and materials that are required to duplicate and send your records to your new dentist.

How long does it take to transfer patient records?

It depends. There are a lot of factors that can influence patient record transfer times, like:

  • What types of information have you requested for transfer?
  • Was your old dentist using an electronic record keeping system?
  • How well-organized are your old dentist’s patient records?

As a rule of thumb, it shouldn’t take more than a week or two for your patient records to be transferred from your old dental practice to your new one.

If your old and new dental practices are both using electronic patient record systems, sometimes the transfer can be completed as quickly as within a day!

Why are records copied and transferred?

It’s because, in most cases, each dental practice is the legal owner of the files, papers, radiographs, and any other physical or digital items that make up patient records. 

However, as a patient, you’re the legal owner of the *information* on your dental records.

That’s why you can freely access your records or request that they be transferred, but can’t force a dental clinic to completely remove or destroy your records.

How long are dental records kept for?

The simple answer is “16 years”, but there’s actually a bit more nuance involved since the laws around record retention changed about a decade ago. 

It all depends on how recently you’ve visited your dentist.

If you’ve been to the dentist since June 1, 2013, your records will cover all visits going back 16 years from your most recent appointment.

If your most recent visit to the dentist was before June 1, 2013, then your records will be kept for 31 years or until June 1, 2029 (whichever comes first). Once you visit the dentist, you’ll automatically switch to the 16-year retention system.

That can be a bit confusing to read, so here are a few examples.

Suppose that your most recent dental visit was in July 2023. That means your dentist would need to keep any information in your dental records that was created after July 2007.

Now, suppose that your most recent dental visit was in July 2010. As long as there were no new visits entered into your records, your dentist would need to keep them until June 1, 2029.

Lastly, suppose that your most recent dental visit was in July 1990. If there were no new visits entered into your records, your dentist would have been free to responsibly dispose of them in July 2021.

Remember: take the time to transfer your records

As a patient, you don’t always get to see the notes that your dental practice’s staff includes after each visit, but there are always plenty!

Whether it’s the hygienist, the dental assistant, or the dentist, every little detail matters when it comes to your health.

It might take a little bit more effort, but in exchange for safer, smoother, and more comfortable treatment, that’s a small sacrifice.

Looking for a dentist in Coquitlam?

We’re accepting new patients, and we’d love to be your next dental practice.

As you might’ve guessed, we know a thing or two about helping patients transfer their dental records and get started with treatment. 

But it’s not just about helping patients with their records — it’s about helping them make *everything* easier. We have extended hours, easy direct billing and financing, along with 6 in-house Coquitlam dentists so you can get all the assessments, imaging, and treatment you need without spending hours driving around Metro Vancouver.

So, if you’re ready to book your first visit - or if you just have some questions to ask first - call us at (604) 552-2241 or contact us online.


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